Copyright
Guy Boothby.

The Beautiful White Devil online

. (page 4 of 19)
Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 4 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


air, and I had a better opportunity permitted me now of seeing what a
beautiful face it really was, and how exquisitely her head was set
upon her shoulders. Her hands and feet were very small, so was her
mouth, while her ears were like shells tucked into fragrant nests
against her head. But the glory that eclipsed all others was the
wealth of golden hair that crowned her. Such hair I have never seen
before or since. It seemed to have caught all the sunshine of the
world and to be jealous of dispersing it again.

Once more, as if to afford as great a contrast as possible to so much
loveliness, the same ferocious bulldog followed at her heels, and,
when she approached me, stood regarding me with calmly scrutinising
eyes.

"Welcome to my cabin, Dr. De Normanville," she said, coming over to me
and holding out her tiny hand with a frank gesture. "I am delighted to
see that you are looking so much better."

"I'm feeling quite strong again, thank you," I answered, completely
carried away by the charm of her manner. "I cannot think what made me
break down in that undignified fashion. I'm afraid you will despise
me for giving such an exhibition of weakness."

She seated herself in a deep chair beside me and slowly fanned herself
with a black ostrich plume, at the same time stroking the dog's ugly
head with her little foot.

"I don't really see why I should," she said seriously, after a
moment's pause. "You must have had a terrible time on that horrible
junk. I feel as if I was personally to blame for it. However, I shall
have more to say on that subject later; in the meantime let us be
thankful that you came out of it as safely as you did. I do not like
the Chinese!"

I saw a little shudder sweep over her as she said this, so to turn the
conversation into a pleasanter channel, I commented on the sailing
qualities of her schooner. The subject evidently pleased her, for her
eyes sparkled with a new light.

"There is no boat like her in the wide, wide world," she cried
enthusiastically. "I had her built for me on my own lines, and I have
tried her on every wind, and in every sea, till I have come to know
her better than a rider knows his horse. She is the most beautiful and
the swiftest craft in the world. And there are times, Dr. De
Normanville," - here she sank her voice a little, and it seemed to me
it trembled, - "when it is of the utmost importance to me that I should
move quickly. She has saved my life not once, but a hundred times. Can
you wonder, therefore, that I love her? But I'm afraid you are too
prejudiced against me to have much sympathy in my escapes."

"I hope you will not think so. I - - "

"Forgive my interrupting you. But don't you think it would be better
if we sat down to table instead of discussing my unfortunate self?"

She pressed an electric bell in the woodwork by her side and ordered
tiffin. When it was served we went over to the table and the meal
commenced.

I am not going to tell you what we ate, for, to confess the honest
truth, within half an hour I had forgotten what it was myself. I only
know that it was admirably cooked and served. As it proceeded we
chatted on various minor matters, literature of all nations, music and
painting, and it was not until we had finished, and the cloth had been
removed and we were alone together, that my hostess touched upon the
reason of my presence on board.

"You know, of course, Dr. De Normanville," she said, ensconcing
herself in a big chair when we had left the table, "why I sent for
you?"

"It was explained to me by your messenger. But I must confess I do not
quite understand it yet. He said something about an island."

"And he was quite right. An outbreak of small-pox has occurred on the
island which I make my depot. Where that island is, I cannot of course
tell you. But you will see it for yourself soon enough. In the
meantime I may inform you that the havoc wrought by the disease has
been terrible, and it was only when I found that I could make no
headway against it myself that I determined to send to Hong Kong for
assistance. To get hold of you was a piece of good fortune I did not
expect."

I bowed my acknowledgment of the compliment she paid me, and asked if
she herself had been much among the cases.

"Why, of course!" she answered. "My poor people call me their mother,
and naturally turn to me for assistance in their trouble. It went to
my very heart not to be able to help them."

"But were you quite wise, do you think, to run so much risk?"

"I did not think of myself at all. How could I? Do you think of the
risk you run when you are called in to an infectious case?"

"I take all proper precaution, at least. When were you vaccinated
last, may I ask?"

"In Rome, in June, 1883."

"Then, with your permission, I'll do it again, and at once. You cannot
be too careful."

Receiving her assent I went off to my cabin, where I had noticed that
a large portion of my medical outfit had been stored, and having
obtained what I sought, returned with it to the saloon. Alie, for by
that name I must henceforward call her, was waiting for me, her arm
bared to the shoulder. Never, if I live to be a hundred, shall I
forget the impression that snow-white arm made upon me. It seemed like
an act of basest sacrilege to perform even such a simple operation
upon it. Beelzebub, the bulldog, evidently thought so too, for he
watched me attentively enough during the whole of the time it took me.
However, it had to be done, and done it accordingly was. Then, when I
had put my paraphernalia back into its case, I bade her good-bye, and
turned to go. She stopped me, however, and held out her hand.

"Do you know, Dr. De Normanville, I want to make you like me. I want
you to forget, if you can, - while you are with us, at any rate, - the
stories you have heard about me. Some day, perhaps, I will attempt to
show you that I am not altogether as bad as people have painted me."

For the moment I was so completely carried away by her outburst of
girlish frankness that I hardly knew what to say.

"'Pon my soul, I really don't believe you are!" I blurted out, like a
schoolboy.

"Thank you for that, at least," she said, smiling at my earnestness;
and then, making me a little curtsey, she turned and disappeared
through the door by which she had first entered the saloon.

Putting my case into my pocket, I looked round the room once more, and
then went up on deck, not knowing what to think. It seemed impossible
to believe that this frank, beautiful girl, whose eyes were so steady
and true, whose voice had such a genuine, hearty ring in it, could be
the notorious criminal of whom all the East was talking. And yet
without a shadow of a doubt it was so. And if it came to that, what
was I, staid, respectable George De Normanville, doing, but aiding and
abetting her in her nefarious career? True, I might salve my
conscience with the knowledge that I had been drawn into it
unconsciously, and was only acting in the interests of humanity, but
it was nevertheless a fact, and one that I could not have disputed if
I had wanted to, that I was the paid servant of the Beautiful White
Devil.

It was just two bells in the first dog watch when I came on deck, and
hard upon sundown. The great round sun, which had been so busy all day
long, now rested in a bed of opal cloud scarcely a hand's breadth
above the edge of the horizon. The breeze had moderated, since midday,
and now the water around us was almost without a ripple, but glorified
with flakes and blotches of almost every colour known to man. Near at
hand it was a mixture of lemon and silver, a little further almost a
lilac-purple, further still a touch of pale heliotrope meeting
salmon-pink and old gold, while under the sun itself a blotch of red,
fierce as a clot of blood, worked through the cloud till it got back
to gold, then to salmon-pink, then through purple up again to the
lemon and silver sky. It was a wonderful sunset, and a fitting
termination to an extraordinary day.

After dinner, of which I partook in the officer's mess-room, I
returned to the deck. It was nearly eight o'clock, and as fine a night
as I had seen since I came into the East. Lighting a cigar I walked
aft, and, leaning upon the taffrail, scanned the quiet sea. Situated
as I was, it is not to be wondered at that a variety of thoughts
thronged my brain. I tried to think what my dear old mother would have
said could she have seen the position my over-rash acceptance of a
tempting offer had placed me in. From my mother, who, with my father,
had been dead nearly five years, my thoughts passed on to other
relatives - to a girl whom I had once thought I loved, but who had
jilted me in favour of a brother student. The old heartache was almost
gone now, but it had been a most unfortunate affair; since then,
however, I flattered myself, I had been heart-whole, and I deluded
myself with the notion that I was likely to remain so.

Since dinner the breeze had freshened, and the schooner, with all sail
set, was now slipping swiftly through the water. I turned, and,
leaning against the rail, looked aloft at the stretch of canvas which
seemed to reach up almost to the stars, then back again at the wake
and the wonderful exhibition of phosphorised water below the counter.

Suddenly I became aware of someone standing by my side, and turning my
head, I discovered it was none other than the Beautiful White Devil
herself. She was still dressed in black, with a sort of mantilla of
soft lace draped about her head.

"What a supreme fascination there is about the sea at night, isn't
there?" she said softly, looking down at the sparkling water. I
noticed the beauty of the little white hand upon the rail as I replied
in appropriate terms.

"I never can look at it enough," she continued almost unconsciously.
"Oh, you black, mysterious, unfathomable depths, what future do you
hold for me? My fate is wrapped up in you. I was born on you; I was
brought up on you; and if my fate holds good, I shall die and be
buried in you."

"At any rate, you need give no thought to that contingency for very
many years to come," I answered bluntly. "Besides, what possible
reason can you have for thinking you will end your days at sea?"

"I don't know, Dr. De Normanville. It would puzzle me to tell you. But
I feel as certain of finding my grave in the waves as I am that I
shall be alive to-morrow! You don't know what the sea has been to me.
She has been my good and my evil genius. I love her in every mood,
and I don't think I could hope for a better end than to be buried in
her breast. Oh, you beautiful, beautiful water, how I love you - how I
love you!"

As she spoke she stretched her arms out to where the stars were paling
in anticipation of the rising moon. In any other woman such a gesture
would have been theatrical and unreal in the extreme. But in her case
it seemed only what one might expect from such a glorious creature.

"There is somebody," she continued, "who says that 'the sea belongs to
Eternity, and not Time, and of that it sings its monotonous song for
ever and ever.'"

"That is a very beautiful idea," I answered, "but don't you think
there are others that fully equal it? What do you say to 'The sea
complains upon a thousand shores'?"

"Or your English poet Wordsworth, 'The sea that bares her bosom to the
wind'?"

"Let me meet you with an American: 'The sea tosses and foams to find
its way up to the cloud and wind.' Could anything be finer than that?
There you have the true picture - the utter restlessness and the
striving of the untamed sea."

"'Would'st thou,' so that helmsman answered,
'Learn the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery!'"

"Bravo! That caps all."

For some seconds my companion stood silent, gazing across the deep.
Then she said, very softly:

"And who is better able to speak about its dangers than I, whose home
it is? Dr. De Normanville, I think if I were to tell you some of the
dangers through which I have passed you would hardly believe me."

"I think I could believe anything you told me."

"I rather doubt it. You see, you have no idea what an extraordinary
existence mine is. Why! my life is one long battle with despair. I am
like a hunted animal flying before that hell-hound, man. Do you know
how near I was to being caught once? Let me tell you about it, and see
if it will convey any idea to you. It was in Singapore, and I was
dining at the house of a prominent police official, as the friend of
his wife. I had met her some months before under peculiar
circumstances, and we had become intimate. During the meal my host
spoke of the Beautiful White Devil, and commented on her audacity.
'However, we have at last received a clue concerning her,' he said.
'She is not far away from Singapore at the present moment, and I have
every reason to believe that in forty-eight hours she will be in our
hands.' I had a full glass of champagne in my hand at the moment, and
it is a compliment to the strength of my nerves to say that I raised
it to my lips, before answering him, without spilling one drop."

"And did he never suspect?"

"No, indeed. To tell the truth, I doubt if he knows to this day how
close the Beautiful White Devil really was to him. Yet one moment's
hesitation might have cost me my life. Another time I attended a
Viceregal ball in Colombo in the capacity of an heiress from England.
In the middle of the evening the partner with whom I was dancing, a
young inspector of police, apologised for having to leave me. He said
he had received information concerning the Beautiful White Devil, who
was known to be in the town. During supper he had been telling me
about his prospects, and the girl who was coming out from England to
marry him when he got his step. 'It will be a good thing for you if
you catch this woman, won't it?' I inquired. 'It will get me
promotion, and that will mean the greatest happiness of my life - my
marriage!' he answered. 'Won't you wish me luck?' I did wish him luck,
and then went off to dance the lancers with His Excellency the
Governor."

"Do you think it wise to run such awful risks?" I asked, amazed at her
audacity.

"Perhaps not; but in that particular case I could not help myself. I
stood in need of some important information, and could trust nobody to
obtain it but myself."

"It must have been a terrible five minutes for you."

"Yes; I almost fainted after the dance. His Excellency apologised
profusely for the heat of the room."

As she finished speaking, the moon lifted her head above the horizon,
and little by little rose into the cloudless sky. Under her glamour
the sea became a floor of frosted silver, till even the spangled glory
of the phosphorus was taken from the curdling wake.

"I expect you have been told some very curious stories about me, Dr.
De Normanville?" my companion said, after a little while. "I wish I
could induce you to tell me what you have heard. Believe me, I have a
very good reason for wanting you to know the truth about me."

"That is easily told," I answered. "I have heard a great many
variations of the same story, but knowing how news travels out here, I
have placed very little credence in any of them."

"You have heard, perhaps, about the Sultan of Surabaya?"

I intimated that I had.

"At first you must have thought that rather a cruel action on my part.
And yet, if you knew all, your blame would probably turn to
admiration. You do not know, perhaps, what a character that man bore
in his own state, the life he led, his excesses, his constant crimes,
his tyranny over his unfortunate subjects. I tell you, sir, that that
man was, and is, one of the greatest scoundrels upon the face of this
earth. I had heard over and over again of him, and when I discovered
that his people could obtain no redress for their grievances, I
determined to meet him on his own ground. I arranged my plans
accordingly, abducted him, made him disgorge a large sum of money,
half of which I caused to be anonymously distributed amongst the poor
wretches he had robbed, and at the same time told him his character
for the first and only time in his heathen existence, promising him as
I did so that if he did not mend his ways, I'd catch him again and
silence him for ever. Punishment was surely never more fitly earned.
Then there was a merchant in Hong Kong, by name Vesey. I expect you
have heard of him and the trick I played him? Well, that man made an
assertion about me in a public place to the effect that I was - - But
never mind what it was. It was so vile that I cannot repeat it to you,
but I made a vow I would be revenged on him for it, sooner or later. I
_was_ revenged, and in the only way he could be made to feel - that
is, through his banker. He will never forgive me, of course. Now, what
else have you heard?"

"Pardon my alluding to it," I said, "but - the _Vectis Queen_ - the
_Oodnadatta_."

"So you have heard of those affairs? Well, I do not deny them. I must
have money. Look at the expenses I have to meet. Look at this
boat - think of the settlement I maintain, of the hundreds of
pensioners I have all through the East, of the number of people whose
services it is necessary for me to retain. And, pray do not
misunderstand me. To you it may seem that such transactions make me
neither more nor less than a thief - a common cheat and swindler. In
your eyes I may be that, but I must own I do not look upon it in the
same light myself. I am, and have been all my life, at war with what
you call Society - the reason I may perhaps explain to you some day. I
know the risk I run. If Society catches me, in all probability my life
will pay the forfeit. I know that, and I am naturally resolved not to
be caught. One thing is certain, I prey only on those who can afford
to lose, and, like the freebooters of romance, I make it my boast that
I have never knowingly robbed a poor man, while, on the other hand, I
have materially assisted many. There are those, of course, who judge
me harshly. Heaven forbid that they ever find themselves in the
position in which I am placed! Think of it! I am hunted by all
men - every man's hand is against me; I am cut off from country and
friends; a price is put upon my head, and for that reason I am obliged
to distrust everyone on principle. Think of having the knowledge
continually before you that if you are not constantly on the watch
you may be caught. And then - - "

"And then?"

I heard her grind her little white teeth viciously.

"There will be no _then_, Dr. De Normanville, so we need not talk of
it; while I live they will never catch me, and when I am dead it
cannot matter who has possession of my body. Good-night!"

Before I could answer she had left me and vanished down the companion
ladder. I turned to the sea and my own thoughts. The ship's bell
struck four (ten o'clock), the lookout at the fo'c's'le-head cried,
"All's well!" silence reigned, a wonderful quiet broken only by the
humming of the breeze in the shrouds, and the tinkling of the water
alongside. I leant against the rail and considered the life of the
Beautiful White Devil as I had heard it from her own lips.




CHAPTER IV.

THE HOME OF THE BEAUTIFUL WHITE DEVIL.


The sun next morning had scarcely made his appearance when I awoke to
a knowledge of the fact that the yacht was stationary. Such a
circumstance could have but one meaning: we had arrived at our
destination. As soon, therefore, as this idea became properly
impressed upon my mind, I sprang from my bunk, made for the port-hole,
and, drawing back the little curtain that covered it, gazed out upon
the world. And what a picture met my eager eyes! What a scene to paint
in words or pigments! But oh, how difficult! If I were a literary
craftsman of more than ordinary ability, I might possibly be able to
give you some dim impression of what I saw. But being only an amateur
word-painter of the sorriest sort, I very much fear it is a task
beyond my capabilities. However, for the sake of my story, I suppose I
must try.

To begin with, you must endeavour to imagine a small harbour, at most
half a mile long by three-quarters wide, having upon the side towards
which I looked a wide plateau extending almost to the sands that
fringe the water's edge. Picture this tableland, or plateau, as I have
called it, backed by a tall, forest-crowned hill, almost a mountain,
which soars up and up a couple of thousand feet or more into the azure
sky; while peering out of the jungle that ornaments its base may be
seen the white roofs of houses, with, here and there, the thatch of a
native hut of the kind usually met with on the west coast of Borneo
and the islands thereabout.

So strikingly beautiful was the view, and so great was my curiosity to
examine for myself this home of the Beautiful White Devil, for such I
could not help feeling convinced it was, that I dressed with all
possible speed and repaired on deck.

From this point of vantage the prospect was even more pleasingly
picturesque than it had been from the port-hole of my cabin.

All round us the water was smooth as green glass, and so wonderfully
transparent that, on leaning over the starboard bulwark, I could
plainly discern the flaking of the sand at the bottom and the
brilliant colours of the snout-nosed fishes as they swam past, at
least a dozen fathoms below the surface.

To my surprise the harbour was entirely landlocked, and, though I
searched for some time, I could discern no opening in the amphitheatre
of hills through which a vessel of even the smallest size could pass
in from the sea. But being more taken up with the beautiful scenery of
the bay than its harbour facilities, I did not puzzle over this for
very long.

So still was the morning that the smoke of the huts ashore went up
straight and true into the air, the pale blue contrasting admirably
with the varied greens of the foliage out of which it rose. Overhead,
and around us, flocks of gulls, of kinds hitherto unknown to me,
wheeled and screamed, while at intervals gorgeously-plumed parrots
flew across our bows from shore to shore. Once a small green bird,
apparently of the finch tribe, settled on the foreyard foot-rope, and
a little later a tiny sand-piper came aboard, and hopped about the
fo'c's'le as calmly as if he had been doing nothing else all his life.

When first I came on deck, with the exception of the cook in his
galley, not a soul was to be seen. But presently, while I was watching
the antics of the bird I have just described, my old acquaintance
Walworth joined me at the rail, and laid himself out for conversation.

"Doctor," he said, "I want you to tell me candidly, if, in all your
experience of the world, you have ever looked upon a fairer scene than
that you have before you now?"

"No; I don't think I have," I answered. "It is marvellously beautiful,
but all the same, I must own one or two things about it rather puzzle
me."

"And what are they?"

"Well! in the first place, since I can see no opening in the hills,
how did we get in here?"

"Ah! you have been thinking about that, have you? Well, to save you
any further trouble on that score, let me tell you that if you were to
look for a hundred years from where you stand now you would not be
able to discover it. And, unless her ladyship gives permission, it
would be as much as my life is worth for me to tell you. Now for your
second question?"

"Well, I can see, say, a dozen huts, all told, over yonder," I
answered. "Surely they don't constitute the settlement of which you
spoke to me?"

"No; they do not. Those you see over there are only the outlying
portions of the village, meant to deceive the crew of any vessel who
might land and find their way in here; the real place itself lies five
miles inland, round that hill, through the gap you can just make out
alongside that bit of terra-cotta coloured cliff yonder."

"I see! And now, to change the subject. With regard to that lymph you
procured for me in Hong Kong, where is it?"

"It has already been sent to your bungalow with the rest of the
medical paraphernalia we brought with us."

"And her ladyship?"

"Went ashore as soon as we came to anchor. If I mistake not that's her
boat coming off to us now."

As he spoke, a large white surf-boat put off from the beach, and,
under the sturdy arms of her crew, came swiftly across the stretch of
blue towards us. As she ranged alongside, I carefully examined the men
rowing. They were of medium size, and evidently of the Dyak race,
being taller than the average Malay, and inclining more to the build


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 4 of 19)